The Graduate Center: Who, What, Where, Why?

Submitted on January 27, 2017
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The Graduate Center is a unit of the UA Graduate College.  Thanks to the vision of Dean Andrew Carnie, it was established in 2014 as a “clearing house” for graduate and postdoctoral professional development opportunities on campus.  Dean Carnie explains: “We knew that we had all sorts of professional development opportunities on campus, but there was little coordination.  So I realized there was an opportunity here for a place for these disparate groups to collaborate—not to take over what they were already doing well but to provide a place where students could come to find resources in their units or their colleges and also fill some of the gaps for programs that don’t have those opportunities.”

The mission of the Graduate Center is to support the next generation of researchers, academic professionals, and leaders by building opportunities for professional development and mentoring as well as fostering interdisciplinary research, innovative collaboration, networking, and engagement with diverse communities.  Another objective is to help colleges and programs recruit distinguished graduate students and postdoctoral scholars.  The Center’s signature recruitment initiative is the University Fellows Program, which attracts some of the most distinguished graduate students in the nation. It offers a competitive financial package, professional development programming, mentoring and community engagement opportunities, and a richly interdisciplinary cohort.  As Dean Carnie notes,

Students who have participated in the University Fellows Program tell me that they really valued it; they found it enriching and a real bonus for them.  The colleges and departments are anxious to have their students participate. I’ve been surprised at how quickly it’s been embraced by the university community.  Academic programs are important—they are what we do—but the Fellows Program gives participants an opportunity to see other ways in which they could use their training, to the benefit of themselves and the community.

In addition to promoting and facilitating professional development opportunities that exist across campus, the Graduate Center offers workshops, panel discussions, and speaker series.  An example of the latter is this semester’s Interdisciplinary Collaborations Lecture Series. Throughout the spring, audiences will learn about the experience and insights of participants in four initiatives that bring together diverse perspectives from the sciences, arts, humanities, social and behavioral sciences, and communities around the globe. In addition to discussing their innovative projects and synergies, experts will address best practices for creating, building, and maintaining collaborative initiatives.  Past series have featured the UA’s own MacArthur “Genius Award” winners (2015) and the 2016 Healthy Living Series, which offered a research-based approach to creating a healthy, balanced, and productive lifestyle. 

A vital component of graduate students’ success is writing, which has been a focus of the Graduate Center’s professional development programs from its inception. The Center offers a cornucopia of writing support, often in collaboration with the Writing Skills Improvement Program, the Think Tank, the Vice Provost’s Office, the Office of Fellowships and Community Engagement, and the Office of Instruction and Assessment. “From ABD to PhD Writing Workshops” teach effective writing strategies for students working on their dissertation. The Graduate Writing Oases provide spaces for writing with a community, and the Faculty Job Application Workshops support the development and revision of diversity and teaching statements, application cover letters, and online portfolios.

Another critical requirement for graduate students’ success is the ability to present their work to a broad range of audiences— the general public, potential employers, donors, politicians and other policy makers, grant agencies, etc. To that end, the Graduate Center collaborates with the Graduate and Professional Student Council to host Grad Slam every spring. A campus-wide competition for the best 3-minute presentation of a research or creative project, Grad Slam offers nearly $7,000 in prizes. During the months leading up to the competition, the Center partners with academic departments to conduct workshops on public speaking; it also builds awareness about other resources and opportunities for effective presentation. After several years of success, Grad Slam has added a state-wide competition. Students from ASU, NAU, and the UA compete each April for even more cash prizes while developing valuable communication skills.

Who makes this all happen?  Dean Carnie’s vision and Associate Dean Dorian Voorhees’s sustained commitment are key. Dr. Meg Lota Brown is the Faculty Director of the Graduate Center. According to Dean Carnie, “when we started thinking about this, Meg Lota was already working as Chair of the Graduate Council on a vision of how to enrich graduate education beyond the classroom and research experience. She recognized that graduate students today need not only professionalization but also opportunities to do outreach, to collaborate across units, to find new connections. Her work with committees on our strategic plan made her the obvious person to lead the Graduate Center.” David Bradshaw, the indefatigable Program Coordinator of the Center, is also indispensable to its success. His knowledge of UA’s people and systems, his administrative and technological skills, and his ability to build collaborations help make the improbably packed agenda of the Graduate Center a reality.

What are the current challenges for the Center? Space and access. Dean Carnie observes:

We really need somewhere central on campus where graduate students can make better use of the facilities. (Right now the center is in the Babcock Building north of Speedway and is not easily accessible to most graduate students.) We need a physical location that is more broadly available.

We also need to find new ways of reaching out to graduate students who can’t necessarily attend a workshop or event on a specific date or time.  We’re working on developing online resources that students can access. We want to build new mechanisms for students to benefit virtually from our programs and projects. 

In the meantime, there is a robust Graduate Center agenda of on-campus professional development programs and opportunities. For details about events over the next few months, scroll through this newsletter’s calendar side bar. A more comprehensive list is available on the Graduate Center website: